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THE PUNISHER and RUNAWAYS: Two new Marvel series that excel in very different ways…

Posted on November 27th, 2017
Posted on November 27th, 2017

by Coop Cooper

“The Punisher” (all episodes available on Netflix) – Marine veteran Frank Castle (John Bernthal), whose family was killed in a mob hit gone wrong, puts on a uniform with a painted skull on his chest and systematically murders the entire crime syndicate involved in his family’s demise. Feeling his revenge is complete, he adopts a false identity and tries to live a morose, solitary life as a construction worker. Soon after, he is tracked down and blackmailed into helping a man going by the code name ‘Micro’ (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a government whistleblower who is framed and forced to go underground, abandoning his family. Castle eventually learns that those responsible for Micro’s situation had a hand in the murder of his family and Castle is compelled to once again put on his uniform and continue his violent spree of revenge.

“The Punisher” ultimately finds its footing and does the title character justice, but it takes nine whole episodes to get there before it begins to feel like a Punisher story from the comics. It seems to follow the formula of the other Marvel series on Netflix by chronicling the character’s rise to the recognizable hero (or in this case, anti-hero), we all know and love. The awkward thing about that is The Punisher already covered that in the second season of “Daredevil”. Therefore, it felt like this series spent a lot of time spinning its wheels before we finally got The Punisher up and going again at full speed.

The first nine episodes, as good and well-written as they were, felt more like a grittier version of “Lethal Weapon” or “The Equalizer”, making Frank go undercover and connect a bunch of dots before donning his full gear to deal out his own brand of brutal vigilanteism. However, towards the end of the series, when Frank has his true enemies identified, the true Punisher comes out in all his glory. I am also very satisfied with the story arc of Billy “Jigsaw” Russo (Ben Barnes) from his transition from good-natured ally to bitter sociopath. I think in the next season, we will finally see him transform into the iconic villain from the comics.

For me, the definitive screen version of this character is still Lexi Alexander’s 2008 adaptation “Punisher: War Zone” starring Ray Stevenson. That was the closest to the character from the comics, but this more realistic, humanizing version of The Punisher played by Bernthal will be what draws the mainstream into appreciating the character. The Netflix series is very well plotted, written and executed. I just wish I didn’t have to wait until the last four episodes to get a taste of what The Punisher is really all about. Also, he gets shot or gravely injured in nearly every episode. What might take someone months or years of physical therapy to recover from, seems to only take him a few hours. Seeing that The Punisher is human and not a super-powered hero, perhaps this could be handled a bit more realistically in future seasons.

Rating: 4 out of 5

“Runaways” (new episodes available Tuesdays on Hulu) – Six wealthy (and ethnically diverse) Beverly Hills teens – once friends who drifted apart socially – come together for an uneasy reunion while their parents attend a business meeting. While looking for unattended booze, the teens witness their parents sacrifice a woman in some sort of cult-like supernatural ritual. Horrified, they secretly band together to look for answers, but they soon discover that they themselves are developing supernatural abilities. Also, one of them is shocked to find they have a formerly extinct predatory creature living in their basement.

What’s exceptional about “Runaways” is not its familiar concept, nor its adequate performances; it’s the audio/visual style that makes it stand out. Instead of going for a generic, sanitized style like the Marvel shows on network TV (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “The Gifted”), or the dark and ultra-gritty style of the Netflix shows (“Daredevil” and “Luke Cage”), “Runaways” tries for a different approach. It feels more like an edgy feature film which is reminiscent of the 1987 drama “Less Than Zero”. It’s got an indie/retro style that feels nothing like any other Marvel adaptation to date which is a refreshing antidote to the ‘safe and clean’ feel I associate with shows like “Inhumans” or “Agent Carter”. The content isn’t as experimental as the FX series “Legion”, but at least it feels pleasing and different. The storylines could easily draw comparisons to shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (which isn’t a bad thing), but it’s the fresh style that elevates it above the rest.

“Runaways” has a lot of potential and bodes well for the future of cable and non-Netflix Marvel series. Soon we will have similar, teen-driven Marvel shows like “Cloak and Dagger” on the Freeform Channel and “The New Warriors” which is still looking for a hosting network. Hopefully they will find their own, unique style as well instead of the clichéd, cookie cutter style you see on the D.C. Comics shows like “The Flash” and “Arrow”.

Rating: 3 and ½ out of 5

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